Aurtra — solving an old transformer problem

Electricity distributors worldwide are spending millions to replace transformers that could still have a lot of life left in them.

These are essential for power transmission to our homes and offices so they can’t be allowed to fail. But they are the biggest and most expensive equipment in the network to replace.

Brisbane company Aurtra has developed a clever system to keep tabs on aging transformers. Aurtra co-founder Terry Woodcroft explains.

Terry Woodcroft

You founded Aurtra. How did it begin?

More than ten years ago, the Queensland power industry asked University of Queensland researchers to help them with a problem.

Aurtra grew from that long-term research collaboration. We became a private company in 2016.

The three founders — Richard Harris, Steve McRae, and I — have all previously been a part of Queensland startups that introduced new technologies into international markets.

Steve McRae
Richard Harris

What problem did you set out to solve?

Power companies and governments don’t want to spend more on replacing transformers than they need to.

They are a significant piece of equipment, which amount to about 16 per cent of the power network cost which, in turn, gets passed on to consumers.

Just because something is old, it doesn’t mean it is worn out. But how do you tell? Transformers are sealed “black boxes”.

We set out to measure what was going on inside old transformers — to find a way to gauge when they were truly near their end or were okay to stay in service.

Our work was cut out for us.

There are more than 15,000 electricity distribution transformers in Australia older than 30 years and many have been going for more than 60 years. In the USA, the average age of transformers is more than 45 years.

It is particularly difficult and expensive to check the ones in remote and isolated areas.

What is the company making?

We have developed the Aurtra HealthSense transformer management system.

Our technology provides a very cost-effective way to monitor a transformer’s condition in real time.

Basically, we insert a probe into the transformer that can read all the vital signs to assess its potential lifespan.

TILAS Probe

Our system collects the data and provides an online daily report on the condition of the transformer, including any insulation problems, damage, and probability of failure.

Aurtra HealthSense is a fully automated cloud service and customers get results and recommendations via a secure website with email alerts, for a very low monthly fee.

Through our dashboard, they effectively get an expert engineering analysis of the situation.

Aging transformers is a trillion dollar global problem. The great part about our technology is it works in power grids everywhere.

And we don’t disrupt or shut down any equipment to install it.

We have installations in six of the ten Australian electricity distribution companies in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory, with more in the pipeline.

What is next for your business?

In October 2018, we took our technology to the United States.

We were invited to join the Plug and Play Accelerator in Silicon Valley, specifically for energy companies. This gave us visibility with the networks and investors we need, which helped us enter the US market.

In the next month, we are installing in Europe, UK, China, Korea, Malaysia and New Zealand, so life is busy.

This month, we started negotiations with the world’s largest transformer manufacturers to incorporate our technology into their new transformers, as they need a mechanism to connect directly with their customers beyond the initial sale.

How has Advance Queensland funding helped?

The Ignite Ideas grant arrived at just the right time to help us to scale up manufacturing and the back-end of our cloud-based system, to take on more customers.

We have employed ten more Queenslanders, introduced our technology across Australia and established an international opportunity.

We now have a toehold in the US, Asian and European markets and plan to open an office in the US this year.

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